Detroit and the Rubble of Liberalism

There’s a line about the auto industry in George Will’s column about Detroit today that is worth dwelling on for a moment: “Auto industry executives, who often were invertebrate mediocrities, continually bought labor peace by mortgaging their companies’ futures in surrenders to union demands.”  (Emphasis added.)  My opinion is that the mediocrity of auto company leadership extends beyond just labor relations to the larger questions of car design and quality.  But for the competition of foreign auto manufacturers starting most vigorously in the 1970s, imagine what we’d be getting from the Big Three today.  The full story of Detroit should include the complete civic failure of big business, too, which, cossetted too long from competition, was bailed out by Washington (Chrysler, 1979).

Much attention has been paid here and elsewhere to the racial politics of Detroit during its long downfall, but the business leadership of the city doesn’t come out of this story very well, either.  Take in the first minute or so of this 18-minute promotional video, made in support of Detroit’s unsuccessful bid to host the 1968 Olympics (insert inappropriate jokes here on what new events they’d have featured if they’d won), which includes such gems as “a story of a city seeking new horizons. . .”

Meanwhile, the key paragraphs of Will’s column rebuts Steven Rattner’s recommendation that Washington should bail out Detroit:

Steven Rattner, who administered the bailout of part of the Detroit-based portion of America’s automobile industry, says, “Apart from voting in elections, the 700,000 remaining residents of the Motor City are no more responsible for Detroit’s problems than were the victims of Hurricane Sandy for theirs.” Congress, he says, should bail out Detroit because “America is just as much about aiding those less fortunate as it is about personal responsibility.”

There you have today’s liberalism: Human agency, hence responsibility, is denied. Apart from the pesky matter of “voting in elections” — apart from decades of voting to empower incompetents, scoundrels and criminals, and to mandate unionized rapacity — no one is responsible for anything. Popular sovereignty is a chimera because impersonal forces akin to hurricanes are sovereign.

Meanwhile, FWIW, here’s how the private sector is supposed to work (emphasis on “results”):

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